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How long does a building permit take in Vancouver?

By Misael Lizarraga for Vancouver Real Estate Podcast

One of the biggest complaints Vancouver builders have had for years is the difficulty of obtaining housing permits. And for good reason too. Vancouver has the dubious distinction of having the slowest building permit issuing system of all major Canadian cities.

To get an idea of just as slow it is, for a simple Building Permit, it could take around 8 weeks if not longer to obtain. For Complex Building Permits, particularly those that need an additional Development Permit, waiting time is around 8 months. And if the project needs to be rezoned, you would be looking at least an additional 10 months of waiting time. Developer permits are even worse, with waiting times exceeding 2 years or more.

Vancouver’s situation is particularly bad when compared to neighbouring municipalities and cities. Even though both cities are located right next to each other, according to a study by the Fraser Institute, it takes three times longer to issue a permit in Vancouver than in Burnaby.

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While we could spend hours discussing the many reasons why Vancouver has such abysmal Building Permit processing times, we could sum it all into two words: red tape.

The good news is that the City Council is finally doing something about it. A number of pilot programs and improvements meant to speed up permit issuing times are showing promising results. And City Council announced several new ones coming up this year.

Some of those programs and improvements include:

  • Social Housing or Rental Tenure (SHORT) Program, which launched in October 2017, aimed at producing 1,700 affordable housing units, and reducing permit approval time to 12 weeks.
  • The Applicant Supported and Assisted Process (ASAP) Program, designed to speed up single family and laneway home permit approval time from around 25 weeks to 6 weeks.
  • $66 million allocated in September of 2017 towards creating 600 temporary modular housing units to provide relief for homeless people. These will have a permit approval time of 4-9 weeks.
  • Processing 75% of low density housing permits in under 12 weeks.
  • Making available a larger number of permit applications online, and simplifying a large portion of those that are already uploaded.
  • Training of over 230 staff members in new policies and procedures, in order to increase their permit processing productivity.
  • 42 new staff hired in 2018 to assist in housing, commercial and green infrastructure developments. A further 43 new staff will be hired in 2019.
  • An additional $550 million allocated towards funding water, sewage and green infrastructure expansion.

“Speeding up the permitting process helps reduce costs and increase certainty for projects, especially for urgently needed affordable housing,” said Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart. “By increasing staff, reducing red tape and moving more of our processes online we are better serving small and medium-sized developers and homeowners, and I’m looking forward to seeing continued results as more improvements are put into place.”

Kaye Krishna, the General manager of Development, Building, and Licensing of the City of Vancouver  is pleased by the results of those programs so far, and expects to see more success stories in 2019.

“We have seen great improvements over the past year and expect that the combination of extensive stakeholder engagement, strategic process and technology improvements, focused policy updates, and additional staff will have further impact in 2019”, said Krishna. “Through partnership and collaboration with developers, architects, business owners, and others that regularly apply for permits, we have designed solutions to meet their needs for increased transparency, consistency, and speed.”

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